In-House Marketing vs. Agency: How This VP Wins Using Both

Jun 1, '22 / by Marta Oddone

In-House Marketing vs. Agency: How This VP Wins Using Both

Even if you have an in-house marketing team of A-players, you may find that you just don’t have the time, resources, or capabilities to do everything being asked of your team. From the C-suite to sales to customer service and operations, it seems like there’s always a new request or project to tackle. This is when augmenting your staff with digital marketing agency expertise can sound like an attractive idea.

However, this can be a tricky proposition. It’s not just about finding the right agency – it’s about having the right marketing strategy and the right processes in place so that both your in-house team and the agency can work seamlessly together to operate at their highest potential.

It’s hard enough to make that happen with just full-time employees, let alone a hybrid team of in-house and agency resources. And yet, we manage exactly this balance with many of our clients. What’s the secret sauce?

We talked to Holly Dowden, vice president of marketing at Ntiva, a managed IT services provider with 400 employees across the United States. As a veteran marketer and one of our longstanding (and favorite!) clients, Dowden has plenty of expert insights on what makes the in-house/agency relationship work. Holly Dowden, vice president of marketing at NtivaHolly Dowden, VP of Marketing, Ntiva

She was quick to point out that the first question to ask yourself is, “Why?”

Why are you hiring an agency?

“Every time I work with outside agencies, I first have to determine what I want to use them for,” Dowden says. “Am I looking for someone to help me with content? Am I looking for an SEO expert? Why am I bringing on expertise outside of my team?”

To answer that question, she says, evaluate your goals and what’s missing from your current team to successfully meet those goals.

With Ntiva, that was an easy evaluation.

Ntiva needed a little bit of everything

Dowden was originally hired as a one-woman marketing team. She gained a team member following an acquisition and quickly filled his every working moment with marketing projects, including blog writing. The problem was, with so much else on his plate, he couldn’t churn out content fast enough to keep up with a truly effective inbound marketing strategy.

There were also challenges with Ntiva’s website. Dowden had been a HubSpot user for many years and considered it to be one of the better platforms for inbound marketing. She wanted to move Ntiva’s website onto the HubSpot CMS, which required an expert.

“There's a lot you can do yourself on HubSpot as a marketer, but from an operational point of view, there's no way you're going to understand all the ins and outs of this product unless you hire a HubSpot expert,” Dowden says. “There’s the Sales Hub, the Marketing Hub, and now even a Service Hub. If you have a small team like mine, you can’t afford to dedicate an entire individual to managing HubSpot.”

Additionally, no inbound marketing strategy is complete without SEO expertise. While large enterprises may have the budget for hiring a full-time SEO director or building an in-house marketing team, the average small or mid-sized company doesn’t have that luxury.

In a nutshell, Dowden needed help setting up and running the HubSpot platform, creating content, and managing campaigns – basically, everything.

Knowing that high-quality content was critical, she reached out to her network in search of an agency that could help her with content marketing strategy and possibly also HubSpot and SEO expertise down the road. One of our existing clients who knew Dowden recommended she contact us because “creating content is Clariant Creative's strength.” (We’re blushing!)

The next step was to figure out how our teams would work together, which happens to be the second question Dowden recommends asking.

How will you work with an agency? Or, who’s doing what?

The challenge with the in-house/agency relationship is optimizing the workload. Which activities are best handled by an agency, and which are best kept in-house?

Know what to outsource

Dowden identifies seven marketing functions that she believes are good candidates to be outsourced to a marketing agency:

  1. Content creation
  2. Blogging
  3. Social media
  4. Paid advertising
  5. Website development and updates
  6. Email campaigns
  7. Public relations

“When you have a small team like Ntiva does, you may have people with specialized skillsets, but you likely won’t have a team member for every skillset you need to make your marketing efforts effective,” Dowden points out. “So, you end up with generalists who either don’t know enough to be experts where you need it, or don’t have the available time to do everything. That’s where agencies can add the most value.”

Content creation was a priority for Dowden, but her internal team didn’t have the bandwidth to create and maintain an editorial calendar, so this was a perfect place for us to begin our collaboration. Our team took on the responsibility for creating Ntiva’s quarterly content calendar, and this quickly expanded into interviewing Ntiva subject matter experts and ghostwriting their content, from blog posts to white papers to e-books.

Lean on internal expertise

You’ll note in the previous paragraph we said “interviewing Ntiva subject matter experts.” When it comes to outsourcing content, subject matter expertise is the one thing that can’t be easily outsourced.

While it’s possible your agency will be able to interview outside experts and lean on content writers to use their craft in researching and writing compelling pieces, your in-house experts will bring the most valuable and unique insights about your products and services, your value proposition, and the relationship you have with your customers. The more you can connect your agency partners to these in-house experts (and that includes your sales and service team), the higher quality of work they’ll be able to deliver for you. It’s really that simple.

Because Dowden made Ntiva expertise so accessible, we were able to quickly produce high-quality content and demonstrate value right out of the gate. What started as a simple engagement grew into a strong partnership, and Dowden began using Clariant Creative for other projects as they came up.

Assign an internal point person

As our relationship with Ntiva has grown, project management has become critical.

Even when outsourcing tasks and projects to an agency, your involvement is still required for reviewing and approving strategies, creative briefs, content drafts, design mockups, etc. If you don’t fully factor this time into your internal processes, bottlenecks will occur – and your agency will have a hard time helping you achieve the results you’re striving for.

At Ntiva, Dowden is our point person. She communicates priorities, budgets, and updates; she manages all content reviews; and she coordinates with us to make sure their website, blog, and other channels are always up to date.

“The weekly meetings we have with Clariant Creative keep us on track,” she adds. “Even though I come prepared for meetings, they’re always looking at ways to help us achieve our goals because they’re not in the weeds. They’re looking at our strategic plan from another vantage point. That’s important.”

Dowden emphasizes not every vendor is as organized and proactive as Clariant Creative. “I have other vendors that require more hand-holding, so it's up to me to manage the vendor and be the in-house point person,” she states. That obviously is not ideal.

What about results?

We can’t talk about how successful our clients are without some reference to results. So, what wins has Ntiva achieved since working with Clariant?

“Really there’s no single biggest win,” Dowden says. “We have a great website, and our organic traffic has gone through the roof. When I started with Ntiva, our Domain Authority score was 32, and it’s now grown to 48. There are so many wins.”

We’re quite proud of these two charts that put this growth into perspective:

Ntiva Page view report

Ntiva New contacts report

Additionally, Ntiva recently began creating videos, a medium that had been on Dowden’s radar for ages but wouldn’t have been possible without the help of her partner agency. “It was cost effective and worked so well, we’re going to do more of them,” she adds. (We can’t wait!)

So … are you ready to explore collaboration with an agency partner? Could your in-house marketing team use some additional expertise and hands? What about all those projects you’ve been putting off until you “have the time”?

As an easy first step, we offer a no-cost inbound marketing audit that includes an 11-point assessment of your strategy. You’ll get a bird’s-eye view on what you’re doing well, what you’re not doing at all – and where you could perhaps use some help.

Let’s have some fun, create some great content, and grow your business!

How does your marketing stack up?

Topics: Strategy

Marta Oddone
Written by Marta Oddone

As an Inbound Marketing Strategist, I’m passionate about creating content to help companies and brands educate, connect, and build trust with their target audience.

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